As a parent, preparing for your teen’s higher education can be as exciting as it is daunting. One of the most crucial aspects of this preparation is understanding how to finance this education. That’s where FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – comes in. If you’ve never heard of it or have only a vague idea of what it is, you’re in the right place.
What is FAFSA?
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the primary form that the federal government, states, and colleges use to award financial aid to students. This aid can come in the form of grants, work-study funds, and loans. Filling out the FAFSA can open the door to these resources, making college or career school more affordable for many families.
Why is FAFSA Important?
For many families, the thought of paying for college can be overwhelming. Thankfully, billions of dollars are awarded annually in financial aid to help students cover tuition, room and board, books, and other expenses. By completing the FAFSA, you ensure that your teen has a shot at receiving a portion of these funds. It’s essential to understand that without filling out the FAFSA, many of these financial resources remain out of reach.
Why FAFSA Matters
- Financial Support: FAFSA can help bridge the financial gap between your savings, scholarships, and the cost of attending college. This assistance can make education more affordable and reduce the burden of student loans.
- Grants and Scholarships: FAFSA can make you eligible for federal grants like the Pell Grant and state-specific grants. It also serves as the foundation for many scholarships offered by colleges, universities, and private organizations.
- Work-Study Opportunities: FAFSA can provide you access to federal work-study programs, allowing you to earn money while gaining valuable work experience on or off campus.
- Low-Interest Loans: FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal student loans, which typically offer lower interest rates and more favorable terms compared to private loans.
How Does FAFSA Work?
The FAFSA collects information about your family’s financial situation. Factors like income, assets, benefits, family size, and the number of family members attending college play a role in determining your teen’s eligibility for financial aid.
Once submitted, the information is used to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college, nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive. Instead, it’s a number schools use to calculate the amount of federal student aid your teen is eligible to receive.
When and How to Apply?
The FAFSA is available online at studentaid.gov and is always free to submit. Mobile apps, like myStudentAid, are available to make the process even smoother.
Timing is key! The FAFSA opens every year on October 1st.* While there are federal deadlines in place, many states and colleges have their own, often earlier, deadlines. It’s a good rule of thumb to fill it out as soon as possible after October 1st to ensure you don’t miss out on any opportunities.
Tips for Parents:
- Prepare Ahead: Before starting the FAFSA, gather your financial documents, such as tax returns, W-2s, and other records of income. This preparation will make the process smoother.
- Create an FSA ID: An FSA ID is a username and password that you’ll use to log in and sign the FAFSA. Both the parent and the student need one. It’s a good idea to create this ahead of time.
- Double-Check Information: Errors can cause delays or even disqualify students from getting aid. Ensure all details, especially social security numbers and financial figures, are accurate.
- Don’t Assume Ineligibility: Even if you think your family earns too much to qualify for aid, still complete the FAFSA. There are many factors involved, and you might be surprised by what you qualify for.
- Stay Updated: After submitting the FAFSA, monitor its status. Also, check your emails or college portals for any further requirements or updates on financial aid offers.
While the college application process might seem overwhelming, the FAFSA is a crucial step to consider. By understanding its importance and taking the necessary steps to fill it out correctly and promptly, you can unlock a world of financial possibilities for your teen’s higher education. The investment of time now could translate to significant financial support later. Don’t let your teen miss out on these opportunities!
Look for more information in our blog posts next month as we take a deeper dive into FAFSA submission and big changes coming for the 2023-24 school year.
*Due to upcoming FAFSA changes, the 2023-24 form will be available in December 2023.